Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Director: Tony Gilroy


Without spoiling anything, remember the end of The Bourne Ultimatum? If nothing else, it did at least provide a conclusion to the story of amnesiac spy Jason Bourne and his efforts to find out who he was and bring down the morally questionable system that made him what he was. With this unashamed effort to milk the once-unlikely cash cow, the CIA goes from battling that most dangerous man who could bring down their system, to trying to chase the world’s most skilled drug addict. Imagine if James Bond were suddenly revealed to be a diabetic for the sake of getting a film out of it. That’s how undignified The Bourne Legacy gets.

To prepare oneself for just how poor this film is, make a list of everything that made the first three films work. Then imagine a Bourne film with all those items missing. It’s doomed from the start; we don’t even get Matt Damon back! The events of Legacy run concurrent to those of Ultimatum. Whilst Jason Bourne is presumably running amok in Tangiers, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is in training in Alaska, surviving wolves and inclement weather thanks only to his skills and some poor editing. As the never-seen Bourne delivers his Ultimatum in New York, CIA suit Byer (Edward Norton, resembling an anorexic Ian Hislop with his poor grey hair dye) pulls the plug on all the covert CIA operatives, including Cross. As he quickly becomes the target of a boring and overblown aerial manhunt amidst the snowy peaks, we cut back and forth between this Nanook on steroids and Norton, who furrows his brow at computer screens whilst barking orders/clichés/white noise at whoever bothers to listen. As we’ve seen, the Bourne films can be many things; cerebral, complex, even convoluted, but they were never boring. Legacy is boring, but if that was the one problem with it, it may have been forgivable. Alas, that’s not all that’s wrong.

Cross is on the run not only to survive, but also to find a supply of pills (a.k.a. ‘chems’) he’s been prescribed to assist his physical and mental dexterity. He finds his way to Dr. Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a chemist who develops the pills and has got caught in the (literal) crossfire of the CIA-enforced shutdown. He needs her pills, and she needs his survival skills; Steed and Peel they ain’t. For all the threat the characters are under, we simply don’t care. Director/co-writer Tony Gilroy mostly forgoes the crunchy action that gave the original trilogy such bite, and instead focuses on people talking. Talking and talking and talking. And then talking some more. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had anything interesting to say, but mostly it’s exposition and hard-nosed posturing aimed at justifying this film’s existence.

As a writer, Gilroy must shoulder much of the blame with his co-writer brother Dan for writing both banal dialogue and creating dull characters. Renner’s got too much in-your-face charisma and anger for this role. Damon’s underplayed no-fuss approach made him both dangerous and intriguing, but Cross has time for a little humour and a chat, which is not in this franchise’s equation. Weisz does her best with a role that veers from damsel in distress to.. well, damsel in slightly less distress, and their chemistry is minimal. Besides Damon, the biggest absence is that of Ultimatum and Supremacy director Paul Greengrass. His bravura handheld camera is replaced by altogether more fluid shots; punches lose their crunch and the intimacy of quieter scenes is practically null.

Barring one shootout and one chase scene (neither of which compare to similar scenes in the franchise), there’s nothing in The Bourne Legacy to set pulses racing. That is, unless you like to see a relentless parade of people staring at computers and mulling it over with unnecessary profundity. If the tediousness of The Bourne Legacy doesn’t get you mad, then the wasting of franchise stalwarts like Albert Finney and Joan Allen will. Quite simply, it’s the most protracted and unnecessary example of franchise whoring since The Hangover Part II. Jason Bourne could put you in a sleeper hold; The Bourne Legacy will just put you to sleep.